Monthly Archives: February 2002

English Rules

You’d think that after several hundred years of successful use, a language would finally settle down into a rigid structure that everyone could agree upon. I can’t speak for others, but English is not one of those stable languages. This is very possibly a good thing, allowing for new words, new concepts, new blood constantly infusing a language to keep it forever fresh. We have Latin as an example of a rigid and structured language that was perfect for codifying all sorts of information, and then fell to the wayside as the Romantic languages began to grow. It is no coincidence that scientists still use Latin, much like computer programmers use C++. But when the scientist, or programmer, goes home, he’ll use his native tongue which won’t consist of “sum est while $var == 1.” So maybe the flexibility of a language is necessary, but there should be something structuring it, and that structure should hopefully be stable. But, even here, English doesn’t quite have it together. Obviously, a rigid key to pronunciation would be very helpful. Every “g” should sound like every other “g” no matter where it ends up in a particular word. Of course, English, being a doggerel language, doesn’t contain a single letter that can’t sound different depending on it’s neighbor, or even the whim of society. The g in ghost sounds nothing like the g in gnome or the g in gin. Who pronounces prerogative “pre’-rog-a-tive,” which is how the word appears to be pronounced? I always say “per-og’-a-tiv,” and most folks understand what I mean. There are 40 some-odd different sounds (phonemes) in English, and only 26 letters, so it is understandable that some letters will do double duty, but the sheer amount of overlapping that these letters have, plus the ability for some letters accent others like the silent “e”, work in tandem with the next as in “th”, or the existence of letters that are seemingly redundant (“through”), make English a difficult language to master. And this is just with the pronunciation. Maybe it is assuming too much to think that a language needs a stable pronunciation standard. English does very well with assimilating other languages, for which we can thank Latin, German, and French early in English’s fight for legitimacy. Each played a very big part in structuring Old and Middle English. In fact, Old English differed little from German. Our rules for grammar are still very similar to German, today. Ah, grammar, that is where we should get hard and fast rules determining the structure of English. Everything else is window-dressing, compared to the load-bearing beams of grammar. But this may mean that we’d better move out of the English building. Grammar isn’t all that stable either, despite the insistence of 9th grade teachers everywhere. Its very structure, punctuation, is unsound. Look at the lowly comma. The dictionary that I use for style reference (yes, I use a dictionary for style reference, and my copy of Strunk & White is in storage) has 16 different ways the comma is used. The most contentious one is the comma’d list. Americans, in their quest for everything quicker, faster, and less precise, have almost unanimously decided to omit the comma before “and” or “or” in listing three or more items that run together. As seen above (“quicker, faster, and less precise”), I do not subscribe to that rule. I, it may be claimed, am comma crazy. I love to put commas all over my sentences. I believe, naively perhaps, that it helps to clarify my writing. But, taking the lead from journalists, most people not only don’t use the final comma before the conjunction, they actually revile it. As a part-time graphic designer, I often come across clients who send me raw type, or handwritten notes, that I have to make nice and easy to read in some form or label or something. Even if these very wonderful clients do not include the comma at the end of a list in their unedited type, I dutifully include it for them, making sure that I do it consistently across the project. (Local consistency with grammar is probably more important than anything else. If I do something wrong, at least I always do it wrong.) More than half the time, I am told that I made several typographical errors, and could I please remove all the commas before the ands. Depending on the conditions—time of day, cups of coffee consumed, amount of money client is paying me, etc.—I either comply without comment, or I comply after a few choice words. Every time I come across the final-comma-in-list-hating person, I do some research to check to see if the rule has finally been extinguished from the style manuals. I know it will be one day, maybe soon, but it hasn’t yet. The Oxford comma, that last comma in a list, is still a rule in English grammar, for the sake of clarity. An example to demonstrate the clarity factor is “I live with two dogs, my wife and my son.” Surely one could argue that this man has his priorities out of whack, but is he really calling his wife and child pack animals? A simple reordering of “my wife, my son and two dogs” would help the clarity, but so would “two dogs, my wife, and my son.” The main point of this is that the comma helps separate the items easier. Consider: “For a lunch today, you can have a sandwich with salami, roast beef, peanut butter and jelly, or tuna fish.” Take out that last comma before the “or,” and I might be suggesting a sandwich with peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and tuna fish—lots of protein, but not terribly appetizing. Still the debate rages on. No one has really given me a convincing argument to get rid of the final comma. Another contentious point is the proper spacing after a period. While this falls outside of grammar, it does point out the shadow of technology on the structure of a language. About four generations of students learned that, when typing, put two spaces after a period. Never has any typing teacher explained why this was necessary. It was never done with typesetting, that is making type for publications like books or magazines. The advent of the word processor and the personal computer should have put an end to the two-space-after-period rule, but the four generations of student have proven very stubborn. The only reason for the rule was that typewriters were monospaced. In other words, a lowercase i took up as much room as a capital W. This helped the manufacturers of typewriters standardize the metal striking keys, and helped bring the advent of touch-typing, which would have been impossible with typewriters with different sized letters. To help the reader, it was visually clarifying to put two spaces after a period, because there was so much space around the little dot. Without it, a decimal, 3.14, let’s say, wouldn’t look too different from a full stopped 3 followed by a 14 (3. 14). With computer fonts, or any varying-width typeface, the difference is easy to spot. There is no reason, at all, for the double space with computer typography, other than human stubbornness. But I digress. The comma and period do have another standard rule in grammar that is codified and accepted and ignored. When quoting, itself oft-abused (a guilt I share), periods and commas always go inside the quotes. Now this, I have to admit, does not lend itself to clarity. While I stubbornly hold on to Oxford comma with cries of “Clarity!” the comma inside the quotes is actually a relic of typesetting rules. The comma outside of the quotes (“as in this example”,) just looks dirty. The comma tucks nicely into the quote marks, but when it hangs out outside of them, it is ugly, ugly. Computer programmers HAVE to put the comma outside of the quotes when programming phrases called “strings.” A list of strings will have each string separated by quotes and commas, as in: "Example 1", "Example 2", "Example n". If these examples had the comma inside, they’d be part of the string itself, so the comma would become part of the phrase. Messy. But in the world of English grammar, commas and periods, as stated, always go inside the quotes. Titles? Yes, even in there. So, when I say, I love the song “Living for the City,” by Stevie Wonder, that comma has to go with the title, even though this does imply that Stevie put that comma in there, when in fact it was the rules codifying English grammar. But I have a feeling that this will be a rule that dies out. There is no reason to believe that computers, where quite a bit of typesetting happens nowadays, won’t be able to automatically “pretty-fy” the hanging comma or period, shoving it just slightly to the left whenever it comes after a quote mark. It is part of the growth of grammar and the language, no doubt, that so many mistakes are made. I do hope not to see the day when dictionaries include “loose” as an accepted spelling of “lose,” but I’m all for the mutation of language. That even the structure of our language, grammar, can still be debated and argued about is one of the strengths of English. Mutable, greedy, and able to be put together in such pretty and novel ways, English is a language of growth, a language of synergy, of dynamic, proactive, out-of-the-box sematicalism. And, sure, that is often annoying in the business world, because how many words do we need for “new”? But it is a terrifically descriptive language, flexible enough to have changed dramatically over the past few hundred years, will no doubt change drastically over the next few hundred, and still remain quintessentially English.

Six Courses, One Stomach

While the Zoloft has helped my mood, nothing has ever been able to help me stay organized. My Palm molders on my nightstand. I find hand written phone numbers on scraps of paper with no identification to whom those numbers belong to. I have idea, after idea, after idea, and cannot work the alchemy to transform those ideas into material. But this is all good news, really. I picture myself as a kind of mad genius, so I don’t really expect me to be organized or consistent. However, if the ideas go lacking, then I feel dried up and useless. This happened to me this past November to January. And this is why I’m near ecstatic that my muses are pelting me left and right with fantastic concepts. I only hope that I can realize some of these to fruition. Towards that end, I’m going to note a couple (two-three) things, here, that I hope to achieve in the next few weeks. In a month or so, I’ll give a progress report. 1. Lounge renovations: The Lounge is an anchor to my site. It is a shame that I let it flounder so long. But no more. I plan a Flash interface, hosted by Balby, with music and humor. I will also only put sections in the Lounge that are complete and have decent content. No more teasing. Finally, long-suffering Thom deserves a significant thank you from me for giving me so many good reviews. I hope he continues to do so, and I have a couple of surprises planned for him and his readers. 2. Wystica: Wysitca is a fantasy world that a couple of my friends and I are setting up. I plan to post what we create in the creative section of my site. I have a couple of mythologies that I have to finalize, as well. 3. Dystopia: A novel that I’m working on. I’d like to post it in installments in Creative, and get some feedback. I understand Dickens worked like that. 4. Living Things, Bastille Day: And sure, why not continue and/or finish these as well. 5. 15kB of Fame: Now that I’m getting comfortable with PHP and MySQL, I’m looking forward to having a robust bulletin board that completes my vision for 15kB of Fame. 6. Writing emails, calling family and friends: The toughest challenge. But I will try. I will try. –JR

Marrying Mad

Coincidence happens. Never being much of a ladies’ man, I’ve had but six girlfriends from past to present. And, sure, I’ve never believed myself to be much of a catch, but I’ve always tried to be a good guy, in and out of these relationships. So I stay in relative contact with all but one of these past girlfriends. (Debbie, if you read this, you can email me.) Two, I am close to still, not including my current, to whom I am enamored. And the other two, I hear from out of the blue every once in a while. So the sample is small, but I chuckle about the universe and it’s mathematical games, when I find out that three of my past loves have gotten engaged in the past year. It may not seem like much. Marriage is one of those blessed events that bring families together, and none of these weddings are shotgun. (Whew!) These fine women were bound to have a stable, loving relationship apart from me. But the timing of it bothers me, I guess. Of course, it’s sour grapes. I can barely own a car, let alone ask my girlfriend to join me in holy joint bank accounting. Over the years, these past girlfriends have gotten their lives together, when I’m still thinking to myself, “When the hell will I grow up?” Sigh. Or, it could just be fear that my time as a swinging single is going fast. Yeah, that’s it. Still and all, I wish them all the best. These are great people. I still love each one of them. Their futures are brighter because they each have a great guy who will pick them up when they’re down and love them until the end. It’s so romantic. To Michele, Francine, and Jennifer, I raise my mouse in a toast: To love that grows and love that’s past, may you never be without it. –JR

Random Thoughts

What is a blog? It stands for weblog. I can actually publish this from any browser, so no HTML coding-knowledge is necessary. However, I tend to write my entries in something with a spell checker and a strong search-and-replace feature. -+- I’ve gotten feedback on both the essays that I put up here, and that is encouraging. Thanks for your comments. I think that I’ll be including those essays on Creative once they disappear from the recent entries list. -+- If they ever held a contest for the Most Superficial Cities in America, no doubt Las Vegas would win, as it works very hard to earn that title, but I’d be more interested in the runner-up. My nomination is Orlando, Florida. I just visited a very nice, newly commissioned hotel there. The service was great, the rooms comfortable, and the amenities were top notch. But the hotel, not being attached to any of the theme parks in the area, had to come up with a reason to entice tourists to stay there, so they decided to make the hotel a microcosm of Florida. Part of it looks like Key West, part of it looks like St. Augustine, and another part looks like the Everglades, complete with misty swamp and fake alligators. It is very pretty, moderately entertaining, and excruciatingly superficial. A perfect addition to Orlando. -+- I love randomness. On my Portal page, I’ve included two random features. The first is the logo, which changes color and tag-line on every reload. And the other is the Random Weather, which displays accurate weather description for a random city in America (or American Territories). Or, at least, I thought it was accurate. Both of these random elements were scripted by me with PHP, and since I am a beginner, bugs were inevitable. I know of a couple in the Random Weather generator, but it still caught me by surprise when I found out that Nome, Alaska, was at 85 degrees at about 1 pm (EST) today. It then dropped suddenly to 33 degrees by 5 pm. Believing that my code was more suspicious than Mother Nature, I checked into it, and sure enough, I never considered what may happen when the temperature drops below freezing. This is what I forget by living so far in the south. My code simply ignored the negative numbers and gave a nice warm morning to Nome. What all this meant of course, was that Nome was extremely cold in the morning (something like 22 below zero), but then broke just over the freezing mark by their local noon. Brrr!!

Reasonable Determination

Two things used to keep me up at night when I was a teenager: Determinism and Eternity. Looking back, I guess I was pretty geeky to have esoteric concepts keeping me up at night, but that was the truth. Eternity, often mistaken for infinity, is, of course, time unending. This concept, I still have a problem with. I could never logically wrap my head around the idea that Heaven was all that great if we had to spend all of eternity there. It was the beginning of my personal fall from grace, and it’s left me the good-natured heathen that I am today. Determinism, on the other hand, I’ve come to accept and, almost, embrace. And the two things I can thank for that are quantum physics and artificial intelligence. I guess I’m still pretty geeky as an adult, too. Determinism is, loosely, the concept that once the universe was set in motion, it had to end up in this state. Newton was a big fan of determinism, which is why he often used a clock to demonstrate how orderly and precise the universe is in its running. During Newton’s time, however, the Big Bang wasn’t the model for the beginning of all things. It was believed by scientists, as it still is by some, that the universe was eternal, never beginning, never ending. The discovery of the expansion of the universe in the early 20th century put the kibosh on that. Since the universe is expanding, it must have been much smaller at one point, and, this is what got Determinists all a-lather, it must have come from a single source, a beginning point. If someone could discover the conditions at the very beginning of the universe, so it was thought, one could trace the entire history of the universe to its present state, and beyond. The laws of physics described all interactions from little atoms to giant galaxies, and therefore, the universe was just like a giant billiards table—if you knew the initial set up, you could make a pretty good guess on how it came to its present state of seeming randomness. That was the deterministic view. Of course, the computations would be enormous; it wasn’t really thought that anyone could have a complete model of how the universe ended up in the present state, but it was nice to know that it was possible, until that interloper of classic physics came to the forefront, the quanta. There is little need for a discussion on quantum physics in this essay, since I don’t understand more than a fraction of it anyway, but there are some key concepts to quantum physics that I’d like to share. The first is Schrödinger’s Cat. This was a thought experiment put forward to underscore the ludicrousness of quantum physics in the real, or macro, world. It is also unbelievable cruel to cats whose owners have access to nuclear material. To imagine this scenario, put a cat in a box with a vessel of vaporized poison and a small amount of radioactive uranium. Close the box, and don’t peek. Now wait a given amount of time for the uranium to decay and send off a beta particle; there is a 50% chance that it will do so. Did I mention that the stopper to the vessel of poison would disintegrate if it came in contact with a beta particle? Well, it will, and poison the cat, if it does. But, and this is the where the gold is, you don’t know if it will or not. There is an even chance that it will or won’t kill the cat. Quantum physics says that the uranium exists in a state where it has both decayed and not decayed, until observed, and then the “waveform collapses,” and then only one or the other can exist. So, according to Schrödinger, the cat exists in a state of both life and death until we peer inside the box. Once we do, we either find out that we have a very pissed-off cat, or a doorstopper. And it is ridiculous. Do not doubt that Schrödinger’s Cat is an exercise in anything but silliness. The cat, herself, can act as a reasonable observer, and nothing on the macro-level of things is actually in this dual-existence state. So what good is it? It exposes a crucial part of quantum physics, which is that if sub-atomic particle has a choice to go left or right, it will do both, until something observes the particle, which makes that collapsing waveform thing happen, and, to the universe, the particle only took one path. It is the dual nature of these tiny particles—they are both waves and particles, until we look at them, and then they settle down. This, initially, looked to blow determinism out of the realm of plausibility. The universe suddenly got a lot more random and disordered. But in the 1960s, a little noticed paper was published that changed everything, yet again. In simplest terms, it discussed the propagating nature of quantum physics, and what may actually be happening when an electron, let’s say, is observed going through the left slit, as opposed to the right one. This idea, too, said that the electron actually goes through both, as previously thought, but instead of its waveform collapsing when observed, the observer is just in a universe where it went through the left one. There is another universe where the electron went to the right when observed. Both happened; both exist. Within twenty years, the science-fiction ramifications were popular knowledge. Imagine, every decision that we’ve ever made, has split the universe into every possibility of that choice. It brought back determinism, bruised and limping, but viable again. We could, theoretically, run the universe through a film projector backwards and find out the initial conditions, and therefore we could look towards the future and play out all the scenarios that may happen in the end. Of course, since quantum fluctuations still exist, the possibilities for the end-run are huge. If all the computing power in the world could have been able to forecast the future from a clockwork universe, which it couldn’t, the additional computing power to solve the quantum universe would probably sap the Earth of all its power. Which brings me to artificial intelligence (AI). AI is overestimated, and the concept that I am concerned with is more of the decision-making abilities of modern computer games. The more computing power the average home system has, the better the algorithms get for making the little people in your computer game look like they’re having a good time. In this case, AI is the ability for the software to anticipate and react to the user in more complex ways. The computer is still dumb, and no software is even close to achieving thought, but we can play simulation games over and over again, and each time the outcome is different. A small change in variables produces totally new results. Compare this to Pac Man. No matter how many of the little dots he ate, he’d just have to eat more. It was the same thing over and over, and in those games, good players were those that picked up the pattern that was built into the software. If the player went up at a specific time, the game would react the same every time. It was perfect example of clockwork determinism. Modern games are much more of the quantum physics determinism. I can’t make the game do whatever I want, which would be complete free will, but I could decide to buy a particular couch for my Sims, or I could insult another character in my favorite role-playing game. Somewhere, on someone else’s computer, the exact same conditions existed, but that player did something different, and the outcome changed. I can do whatever I want in the parameters of that particular game and in this particular universe. Maybe it is all programmed in, but as the choices increase, I can’t tell the difference anymore between forced, determined action, and free will. As Rush says, I will choose free will. I used to believe that determinism was the opposite of free will, but I’m able to go to bed at night thinking that I can’t tell the difference between a wide-open expanse of deterministic choices and total free-will, since no matter how much I may want to sleep, I can’t, and no matter how little I want to think about eternity, I will.

The Horror of the Entities

This is pure HTML-geek stuff, so if you’re not interested, skip down to the previous entry, which is a lot more silly. Anyway, I was wondering why my apostrophes weren’t working with Movable Type (this very system for the blog). It isn’t that they wouldn’t show up correctly, but the XML syndication-thingy wasn’t working right through PHP. Hmmm… well, the best thing to do, I thought, was ignore it, and just use the stupid hash marks that everyone thinks are apostrophes, but really aren’t. Can you see the difference between these two things? 1. A hash mark:   ’   2. An apostrophe (or single-right quote):   ’   Well, I sure can. I hate hash marks, but I was using them anyway, because they were parsing better in the blog excerpt on my portal page. But then, innocently, I was testing some of my pages for HTML and CSS compliance, and I found out, horrors of horrors, that I was using the wrong thing all along anyway. I’ve always been making my apostrophes by using ’, but this is very bad, apparently, and will eventually cause browsers to choke and rotate their heads 360° and all that. What I, and everyone else, should be using is ’. I never even knew that the HTML entities could even get that large. But, if you’re still reading this, and the only two people I know who would be are Keith and, maybe, Dan, the complete list is at http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/html/guide/entities.html. Check it out, if you’re interested. It opened my eyes. And thanks to A List Apart, without which, I would still be blind. –JR

Mundane Conspiracy Theories

Last night, I was woken suddenly by a sharp knock at my front door. A nervous, haggard man, chain smoking cigarettes, was pacing outside when I opened the door. He was clutching a package, torn and well-handled, which he thrust into my hands the instant he saw me. “Take it,” he hissed. “You’ll know what to do. You’ll be able to spread the word.” Before I could say anything, a dog barking in the distance made the man gasp and take off at a clip. I went back inside and took a look at the package. Between the torn wrapping, I could make out a book, and it’s title was Mundane Conspiracy Theories. No author’s name could I find, even once the package was opened. The pages were meticulously hand-written and perfect-bound, and while the grammar was a bit rough, the lessons were loud and clear. Last night, once awoken, I could no longer find comfort in sleep, for you see, I have read parts of this book, and I am making it my mission to disseminate the information contained within in here in my blog. It may astound you; it may disturb you, but most of all it will open your eyes to the truth! I begin with this shocking revelation:

Mundane Conspiracy Theory #31: I learned this from a friend who has an uncle who’s cousin works with a man who knows a guy who worked in the mail room a large metropolitan newspaper. You know that ink that you get on your hands? Don’t wash your hands in a sink to get it off!!! We all know that the ink contains little nanobots that track your reading habits so newspapers can charge more money for the best advertising spots, but a secret government agency (SGA) has hacked into the nanobot software, so that when you wash your hands after you read the paper, SGA not only knows if you read a paper with a liberal slant, but also gets your DNA by collecting all the little bots in sewers and cesspools!! Their secret plan is to clone people who read the Sports and Comic pages, while slowly letting the International News and Art & Leisure people die out!!! Pass this along to every one you know!!!

Scary stuff, sure, but read on:

MCT #51:Anyone with their ear to the ground knows about the Missing Gas Cap Conspiracy Theory (MGCCT), which proves that there is only one missing gas cap in any metropolitan area at any one time. Now what most people think is that when someone finds their cap is missing, they just steal it from the car next to them, which happens in most cases, thus preserving the -GC/UA ratio (minus one gas cap per urban area), but what these people don’t realize is that there are sinister forces behind the MGCCT.
Two agencies, sponsored by the NWO, are to blame. The first is the National Organization for Crude Auto Petroleum (NOCAP), which sends out operatives to any city or town where someone has purchased a replacement cap from an auto parts store, so as to maintain the -GC/UA ratio. The second agency, far more covert, is the United States Energy & Gasoline Arbitration Service (USEGAS), which makes its money off of the taxes you spend on getting a new gas cap with a lock and key, and also sends out operatives to make you leave your new gas cap on the roof of your car after you’ve finished pumping gas, so you forget it, and drive away, and lose it, and have to buy another one, which means that they get more money!!!

Nefarious, and completely logical. I’ll leave you with one more to chew on:

MCT #172:You may have thought that the clerks at the motor vehicles, or the cashiers at the supermarket, or the bank branch tellers, that all treat you rudely, do so because they have to deal with idiots all day, and are exhausted and about to break down and cry from all the stress. This is not true. They are nasty to you because they have been told to be rude by their bosses. These people make more money and eventually become managers by treating you like shit.

It’s enough to make you crazy, isn’t it? Well, I’ll continue to spread the truth, so long as The Man don’t try to keep me down. –JR

If You Can Read This, You’re too Close to Heaven

Florida is positioned towards the right pocket, just below the Bible Belt. We’ve a strange mix of Jews, Gentiles, and Cubans down here, and while everyone usually keeps their distances from one another, they can’t help but advertise their faith. I tend to view this with amusement, afforded to me because I don’t really care what people think about mythology, but something about the branding of Jesus disturbs me deep-down inside.

The amount of proselytizing that goes on down here on the bumpers of cars is amazing. I had no idea there were so many clever ways of saying that I’m going to hell because I’m not Christian. I was out of the house and on the road for all of 15 minutes today, but that’s still enough time to be asked “Got Jesus?” by a bumper sticker. “Why that’s a play on a well-known advertisement by the Milk Council of America! How amusingly apropos,” I didn’t say to myself. Sure, Jesus is as necessary for strong bones as milk, but does He need a catch-phrase to entice me into salvation?

Well, according to another bumper sticker, He does: “Real Men Love Jesus.” That’s right. All you beer-drinkin’, women-lovin’, gun-totin’, hairy-chested men can burp in relief, because you too can find eternal bliss in the love of God. Phew! Of course, the correlation of this strikes me as a bit odd, which is “all non-Christian men must be wimps.” This of course maybe true in America, where all non-Christians are emaciated and must stay out of daylight for fear of getting run over and/or shot by the big bullies with their steel Bibles, but I don’t think that your average Sumo wrestler would agree with that statement. Another interesting thought about the “Real Men” who love Jesus is why they felt they had to tell the world that they were, in fact, real men. Unless I’m mistaken, we all stopped picking on Christian men a little bit after the Visigoths sacked Rome.

But part of being a Christian, apparently, is believing that the whole world is against you, as opposed to being part of the collective that has actually been running the world for several centuries. I assume this is an homage to the Jews’ famous collective guilt. So in this regard, we’re given this ponderable on yet another bumper sticker: “If you don’t believe in God, you’d better be right!” The “you’d better be right!” part is on its own line in a devilish-red typeface surrounded by comic-book flames. Ah, the inscrutable logic of believing what most everyone else believe, too. Sure, why take chances in believing that there’s nothing after this life? Believe in God, so He’ll allow you into Heaven, and if you’re wrong in that case, and there is no God, hey! no big deal, you won’t know it. Best to hedge your bets.

“Oh, dear. What if there is a God, but it’s not your Judeo-Christian one?” I think to the driver of the car in front of me. “Doesn’t that mean that you’ll have to answer to that god just the same as I’ll have to? Isn’t there the slightest chance that the other 4/5ths of the world may be right in their crazy beliefs, too?” But, sadly, my psychic questions go unanswered as the self-righteous Christian blows a red light, leaving me to ponder such mysteries alone in the left turning lane.

The fish that represents Jesus and Christianity is more popular here than those “My Child Is An Honor Student” bumper stickers are in New York, which means there’s a lot of fish. I don’t know whether this is to imply that the cars are believers, or just the occupants, but it has spawned (pardon the pun) a cottage industry of responses. The most well-known of these, of course, is the Darwin-fish, which is the Jesus-fish, except it faces to the right and has cute little legs and feet. Now, as any believer in evolution will tell you, Darwin and his theories did nothing to dispute the sanctity of Christ. Evolution may put a damper on some of the earlier Bible stories, but that’s it. But, still, Christians tend to be a sensitive bunch, and we’ve now got ourselves a bumper sticker that has the Jesus-fish with teeth eating the much smaller Darwin-fish. The accompanying text says “Jesus is still Lord, and fish don’t have legs.” Well, I can’t dispute the second part.

The most unexpected fish is the Linux-fish, which, like the Darwin-fish, faces to the right, but it has a shark fin on the top. I like the idea of the Linux-fish. It reminds me of the early Christians, who would eventually topple the degenerate, decaying ruling classes of Europe. Evangelizing and proselytizing are definitely needed to topple the degenerate, decaying ruling class of operating systems, so, whether or not it was intentional, the Linux-fish makes a wonderful statement, rich in symbolism and history. Will some misunderstanding, but enterprising, Christian design a bumper sticker with the Jesus-with-teeth-fish eating the Linux-fish? What could the tag-line be? Ah, I know, “Jesus is still Lord, and owns Microsoft stock.”

I know at the core of Christianity, especially the evangelical-flavored version that we have here in America, it is part of your life’s mission to preach the gospel. But is preaching the same as advertising, or, truly, sloganeering? Or is it yet another sign of the dullness of modern-day Americans? With so many Swooshes and Golden Arches all around us, must we take all our information in small, symbolic chunks, or else we can’t parse it? Will all religions bow down before the god with the best ad agency?

No answers from any of the drivers, because we all keep to ourselves. No one really bothers to confront anyone else, but we all want to live as if we’re subversive, that the world is against us, and the only way to strike back is to wear our messages on our Web pages, our t-shirts, or on the back our cars. Non-believers beware. And so my Darwin-fish may anger the driver behind me, but I’ll never know it, leaving us both to go to our final destinations in peace.

A Blog for the Rest of Me

I’ll be honest: Blogs are all over the place, and I didn’t think it necessary to have one, myself. I kind of thought that they were a bit pretentious, and the owners of blogs were pretty self-centered. But then, I realized that my WHOLE Web site was self-centered and pretentious. So I added this blog. I can rationalize it, of course—I need to write more, since I haven’t added a poem or essay in over a year. If I could write just a little blog entry every day, it may grow into bigger things. All five of my loyal viewers would be happy to read what I have to say every couple of days or so. And hey! I’m interesting, dammit! Blah, blah, blah. So for now, it’s an experiment. If it gets my creative juices flowing (ugh, not a pretty picture), then it is worth the exercise is self-adsorption; otherwise, I’m just spitting against the wind. –JR